Review Summary: Deconstruction without dilution, potency with no permanenceDead End Kings
was perhaps the most satisfying musical moment of last year, not only because musically it was such a noteworthy album but because it was so monumental for Katatonia. They had been searching for the sound captured there for years, and it was so liberating to hear everything come together in an album that was, for the first time in a while for the band, a complete package. From beginning to end, the shades of murky gray that the album’s atmosphere conjures were clear and defined instead of smeared together, and the schism between the band’s heaviness and mellowness was no longer such a discernible gap. Fitting, then, that Katatonia decided to deconstruct their work and filter it to a pure essence; a straight shot of melancholy and depression that manifests in the minimalist soundscapes of Dethroned and Uncrowned
So-called “acoustic” albums are a bit of a buzzword in the music industry, it seems, because all it really is is a band approaching the same songs from a different angle. Whether or not that angle proves to be of interest or even any different from the parent material is entirely up to the vision and talent of the band. Katatonia, thankfully, have that eye for detail, but if anything they were not daring enough. The inspirational material from Dead End Kings
wasn’t the most daring place to pull from, no, but the songs lend themselves well to the deconstruction that Dethroned and Uncrowned
lays out for us. “Hypnone” is more evocative than its full-fledged twin on Dead End Kings
, due in large part to those small tweaks and twists that make albums like this worth listening to. The production has an echo to it that makes everything seem distant and eerie – something that the base material lends itself well to. If anything, the atmosphere on Dethroned and Uncrowned
is immediately more gratifying, but not necessarily longer lasting.
That’s where the album is a bit puzzling, because while the mood is amplified, there isn’t the clashing of heavy and soft to drive home a given emotion. It’s not as obvious a juxtaposition of anger and sadness, because there isn’t an instrumental element present to adequately convey the former, leaving us with an overabundance of the latter. It’s quite powerful at first, but in an album of eleven tracks – and an acoustic album at that, where atmosphere is everything - there just needs to be more than one facet to keep it all engaging. “Buildings” just isn’t the same without the heavy chords, and the sublime bliss of “The One You Are Looking For Is Not Here” is not as refreshing despite the brilliant new acoustic guitars because the entire rest of the album poses no diverging emotions. It’s using just one piece of what made Dead End Kings
so amazing, forgetting that the other pieces are necessary to re-create the full picture.
All of that said, Dethroned and Uncrowned
is put together using a master’s hand. The accents are there in all the right places, whether it’s the acoustic guitars gently dancing in the background of “The Racing Heart” or the re-vamped synths of “Dead Letters”. The band knew when to change it up with a new riff or when to accentuate a well-known riff with another instrument or to just play it in a different way, and that is half the battle of an acoustic album. This makes the album still a joy to listen to, because they did what they set out to do: take Dead End Kings
and show us another side of that same coin. If anything, Dethroned and Uncrowned
makes me love Dead End Kings
even more, because it shows just how gifted Katatonia are at bridging the gap between heaviness and ambiance – it’s just that it took them removing the heaviness for you to realize it. Still, if you start out with a brilliant album like Dead End Kings
it is hard to ruin the magic that was present right from the start. This album is nothing but enjoyable the entire way through, but that is true only because of the strength of the material they used to frame it all – not
because the acoustic nature of the album lifts the old songs to new heights. That is only a minor fault, though, because anyone who enjoyed Dead End Kings
will have no trouble at all listening to Dethroned and Uncrowned
over and over again. However, at the end of the day this album will never have its own identity, and will always be overshadowed by the material that spawned it.